Einstein said: “life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Similarly, with businesses and business strategy. A business that does not move forward will lose its balance between profiting from existing business enterprises and building (or acquiring) new enterprises for future growth. Consider Kodak, a US colossus recently in the news, that focused so heavily on its existing film business that it failed to effectively harness the new digital era which it created, and is now entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Kodak is not alone. Numerous companies have fallen to complacency, or reliance on one business which became vulnerable to new competition, for example from cheaper emerging markets or new technological advances.
So what does this have to do with monitoring IP? Well, let’s make the reasonable assumption that businesses learn their historical lessons and endeavor, as part of their business models, to always try to move forward to create sustainable growth, be that, for example, through market expansion, improved or new products, new partnerships, diversification, consolidation etc. Let’s also assume, for arguments sake, that generally companies file patent applications and develop other IP to support the business as it develops. This leads to two distinct IP monitoring needs.
First, as a business creates (or acquires) new IP, there’s a continual need to monitor that IP and existing IP in established areas to ensure that the overall portfolio continues to adequately protect and support the business, and, where appropriate, provides the necessary leverage to help shape the market. As a standard bicycle is useless if static, similarly the IP portfolio, which needs to be regularly shaped and honed to maximum company benefit, including culling and monetizing IP assets no longer core to the business. This on-going process of shaping and honing is now supported by increasingly sophisticated IP management systems to help assess the financial and strategic benefit of IP assets.
Of course, there is another side to the coin. The competition is also building and shaping their IP portfolios in response to company business plans and the marketplace. A company that does not, or does not effectively and timely, monitor the competitor IP in areas of interest will not fully appreciate risks to and opportunities for the company. Risks that may only later become apparent when the company is blocked from effectively entering a market or a new field. Opportunities that are missed because the company fails to appreciate the direction a competitor is taking or an area of opportunity that it is leaving open or wishes to monetize. Businesses build their plans with a keen eye to the competition and the overall playing field. By effectively monitoring the IP of others in their field of interest, a company can further anticipate and project risks and opportunities for the business, and develop more refined strategies which include IP offense and defense.
(This is number 34 in our list of IP mistakes and how to avoid them.)
(Image credit: left-hand)